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Movies  |  Reviews

Fish Tank Review

January 15, 2010  |  8:30am
<i>Fish Tank</i> Review

Release Date: Dec. 23
Director/Writer: Andrea Arnold
Starring: Katie Jarvis, Michael Fassbender,
Cinematographer: Robbie Ryan
Studio/Run Time: IFC Films, 123 mins.

Cannes favorite Fish Tank drops into the world of the British lower class with an attempt at documenting the very real difficulties and strife associated with this world through its cipher Mia. Already kicked out of high school at the age of 15 and wandering friendless among the squalor of her apartment complex, Mia spends her time skipping out on social services and dreaming of a lifestyle spent dancing her way to fame. Not that there’s much chance of this, but her mother’s new boyfriend Connor (Michael Fassbender) seems to think so and encourages her to try recording a video for a local dance audition. The pair’s attraction is obvious, so it’s no surprise when midway through Fish Tank they have sex before he immediately abandons the family.

Fish Tank’s story is almost self-consciously bleak, but still offers glimpses of hope throughout. Connor may be seducing Mia, but at least he has a steady paycheck and seems at times to be wavering between becoming her lover or her father, and even his opportunistic praise never seems to be a complete lie. Fassbender’s mesmerizing performance keeps this ambivalence at the film’s forefront and adds complexity to a tale without any unforeseeable twists. The entire cast comes to feel like a family, and though dysfunctional, their emotions always ring true. It’s just a family put into extreme pressures by their economic reality and society’s expectations. 


Director Andrea Arnold’s true talent is in these performances, though the movie is strikingly beautiful for being shot in a verite style. At times this seems to glorify their poverty, but it usually isn’t too invasive. Far more annoying, though, is the movie’s writing. Fish Tank’s style and acting suggest naturalism, another attempt at capturing this story as accurately as possible, but Arnold’s script contrasts against this with some clunky dialogue and a streak of amateurish heavy-handedness. The difference between intimate Mia-Connor scenes and Mia investigating a stupidly metaphorical chained horse couldn’t be greater, to the point that they seem like two totally different movies. In one, Arnold has true control of her material and in the other she feels the need to handhold its audience every step of the way. 

Fish Tank is still a fulfilling movie; it just doesn’t redefine women’s coming-of-age films in the way it ambitiously attempts to. Arnold’s second feature augers the rise of a real talent, but moreso behind the camera than behind the keyboard. The film’s moments of clunkiness are worth overlooking given its strength when Fish Tank stops trying to deliver a message and instead listens to its characters.

Watch the Fish Tank trailer:

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